Department of Homeland Security Makes Critical Move to Fight Forced Labor in the Seafood Sector - Oceana USA

Department of Homeland Security Makes Critical Move to Fight Forced Labor in the Seafood Sector

Press Release Date: July 9, 2024

Location: Washington, D.C.


Cory Gunkel | email: | tel: Cory Gunkel

Today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it has added seafood to its list of high-priority sectors in the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA). The UFLPA directs the Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force to block U.S. imports produced from Chinese forced labor. Today’s action shows that DHS is prioritizing the fight against forced labor in the seafood supply chain and will require seafood processors and importers to better document their seafood supply chains.

The latest announcement comes amid extensive reporting of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and forced labor by Chinese-flagged vessels and in Chinese-based seafood processing plants. IUU fishing can harm ocean health, deplete marine resources, kill wildlife, and destroy habitats. It is also explicitly linked to forced labor and human rights abuses. 

In June, DHS added three companies, including a seafood corporation, to its UFLPA Entity List, which bans products from these companies from entering the United States.

Following the announcement, Oceana’s Illegal Fishing and Transparency Campaign Director Dr. Max Valentine released the following statement:  

“The Department of Homeland Security should be commended for taking this crucial step to protect American consumers and ensure our seafood isn’t tainted by human rights abuses. DHS is stepping up in the fight against forced labor in the seafood supply chain, but they cannot do it alone. From blocking forced labor products in the seafood sector, to maintaining the current ban on Russian seafood, none of the government’s lofty goals are possible without enhanced traceability requirements. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) must expand the Seafood Import Monitoring Program to all imported species so American consumers aren’t unwittingly supporting human rights abuses when buying seafood.”

Background on Illegal Fishing:    

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a low-risk, high-reward activity, especially on the high seas where a fragmented legal framework and lack of effective enforcement allow it to thrive. IUU fishing can include fishing without authorization, ignoring catch limits, operating in closed areas, targeting protected wildlife, and fishing with prohibited gear. These illicit activities can destroy important ocean habitat, severely deplete fish populations, and threaten global food security. These actions not only contribute to overfishing, but also give illegal fishers an unfair advantage over those who play by the rules. IUU fishing can also be intertwined with criminal activities like document forgery; money laundering; forced labor; and human, drug and wildlife trafficking. IUU fishing vessels are already evading laws and oversight to gain higher profits and, in some cases, are more willing to further drive down costs by exploiting workers through forced labor.

The U.S. government formally established the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP) in 2016, requiring catch documentation and traceability for some seafood at risk of illegal fishing and seafood fraud. Currently, this applies to just 13 types of imported seafood and only traces them from the boat to the U.S. border. A 2022 Oceana report showed that gaps in SIMP are allowing U.S. seafood demand to drive IUU fishing around the world.  

A 2021 nationwide poll from Oceana found that Americans overwhelmingly support policies to end illegal fishing and seafood fraud. Included among the key findings, 89% of voters agreed that imported seafood should be held to the same standards as U.S. caught seafood. Additionally, 81% of voters said they support policies that prevent seafood that was caught using human trafficking and slave labor from being sold in the U.S. Eighty-three% of voters agreed that all seafood should be traceable from the fishing boat to the dinner plate, and 77% supported requirements for all fishing vessels to be publicly trackable. The findings show widespread bipartisan support for policies aimed at increasing transparency and seafood traceability to ensure that all seafood is safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced, and honestly labeled.